Le Gaigne - Good Things Come in Small Packages

My first visit to Le Gaigne last August had that ‘we’re closing for vacation tomorrow and may never come back’ feel about it, which is why I relegated the restaurant to my honorable mention list for 2010 but no higher. I vaguely remember at least half the tables unoccupied, an above average though not particularly exceptional meal, and not much more except for the suspicion that no one really had their heart in it. Well, last night’s return visit left a distinctly different impression – a restaurant nearly at the top of its game, full-speed ahead, damn the torpedoes mode.

When I say that good things come in small packages, I mean that literally - Le Gaigne’s storefront restaurant on the quiet rue Pecquay off the far busier Rambuteau is so small, that squeezing into it and your place at the table is not unlike trying to zip up your tightest pair of jeans after binging during the Xmas season. I counted seating capacity at about 20, with the distinct impression there were twice as many diners. Each time another couple of patrons entered what I thought (my back to most of the other tables) was a filled to capacity room, I was afraid the damn place was going to burst. All those winter coats and other rainy, gloomy January accessories (umbrellas, scarves, etc.) added to the bloated feel, which is probably why things felt a lot airier in the summer. But it wasn’t just that, everything looked and felt more elegant than it had during the first trip - the seating, the lighting, the spiral staircase leading to the cave just to my left, a precarious juxtaposition two-thirds into the bottle of the Co.-preferred light but tasty 2008 Anjou Village Rouge - Chateau la Francaie (21€).

The 5-course menu dégustation (42€) could not be forsaken - after checking on line, I noticed I missed out on last month's, which looked even better, but ended on Jan. 10. As it turns out, I doubt if it could have surpassed what we ended up with; to wit:

1. Tartelette d'endives parfumées au citron de Sicile, chèvre meringué
2. Gougère aux escargots du pré de Mme Liège à la sauce soubise, salade de laitue, crème d'ail rose
3. Saint-Jacques d'Erquy poêlées au beurre de thym, royale de crabe à l'encre de
seiche, purée de topinambour
4. For Co.: Queue de Boeuf (origine France) braisée au vin rouge, cassolette de
navets boule; for me: Suprême rôti de Chapon fermier du Gers, sa cuisse en
bonbon croustillant, légumes racines et potiron d'or et carottes de couleur à la
5. Nuage de Brie de Meaux, mesclun aux noisettes (Supplément 3€)
6. La Pomme dans tous ses états

It's difficult to say which dish was the more memorable, but I had the distinct impression the meal sort of built to a crescendo by #4. I was wowed by the roti de chapon, very succulent, the taste enhanced by the cubed vegetables spiced with marjoram and nested inside a hollowed-out miniature pumpkin, but the pan fried Saint-Jacques (scallops) were an inspiration, cooked in squid ink and mired in a puree of Jerusalem artichoke. I detected a couple of states missing in the dessert promising the apple in all its states, but the multi-tiered oval of cooked and raw apple hit the spot.

Co. and I shared the supplemental (3€) cheese dish - a wisp of light, spreadable Brie and greens, if anything, the one disappointment of the evening in terms of the food. There were a couple other downsides which bear mention - no amuse bouche, a miscue in my book. And although the pace of delivery of our plates began to slow as the evening progressed and the sole, young, comely blond server began to attend to latecomers, the wait became so interminable between the cheese and dessert that I was wondering if Waiting for Godot shouldn't have been titled Waiting for Giagnon (the 27-year-old chef Mickaël Giagnon). The table of four Americans to my right received increasing attention as they ordered their third or fourth bottle of wine. I guess that's understandable, c'est la vie.

The bill for two menu degustation (definitely the way to go in my humble opinion), plus wine and cheese (for one) came to par for the course: 108€ - a bargain that any reasonable fooding fan should not let pass.

12 rue Pecquay
75004 Paris
tel: 01 44 59 86 72
website: http://restaurantlegaigne.fr
Closed: Sunday & Monday
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